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Fostering Christmas in July

The Mirth Project started in 2017 and has helped more than 2,000 foster youth through its Christmas in July program.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Imani Turner says it felt like she washed on shore for the first time when she got her first apartment in 2021.

“Just being in foster care and also moving from home to home, a lot of my childhood, I didn’t really have that sense of stability growing up,” Turner said.

“I definitely had to find my bearings and just remember, ‘Okay, I’m on the ground again’,” she said from her brightly decorated one-bedroom at Columbus Scholar House 3, a rental space specifically for former foster youth.

Turner also credits programs like The Mirth Project for supporting her with basic needs during her foster childhood.

“I got some fun stuff, some comfort things, and clothes and all the good things with snacks. So, it was really cool,” she said. “I got to celebrate Christmas in a different way than I usually do.”

Credit: WBNS-TV

Imani’s story is the reason Robin McAllister-Zaas created the Mirth Project in 2017. Since then, McAllister-Zaas says donors have helped more than 2,000 foster youth through the Christmas in July program which links Christmas wish lists from at-risk teens, 13 to 18, to make their holiday wishes come true.

Credit: The Mirth Project

“They get a new pair of Jordans, they might get a guitar,” McAllister-Zaas said.

She says it just feels like they’re helping level the playing field for kids who have enough day-to-day challenges.

“They give them the things they need, like coats and sheets and blankets and towels, but also the things they wish for,” she added. “So, we are basically helping them survive to that they can thrive.”

Turner now wants to give back to the program that gave her a sense of family. The young artist is donating several of her original paintings to Friday's Christmas in July fundraiser at The Exchange in Bridge Park.

“I just hope that what I'm doing is inspiring to someone else to just keep going and keep believing in yourself,” Turner said.

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